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“Approximately two-million adults meet the criteria for pathological gambling, five-million meet the criteria for ‘problem gambling,’ and seven-million meet the criteria for a gambling addiction.”~ National Council on Problem Gambling
Having a gambling addiction in your 20s, or at any point in life, is not only physically taxing but also emotionally draining to the addict and his or her family. Gambling addiction is also known as compulsive gambling or chronic gambling. But, similar to other types of addictions, the severity of this problem varies from person-to-person and lies on a spectrum from mild-to-severe. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to predict an addict’s gambling patterns (i.e. hourly, daily, or weekly) or what platform he or she will use to engage in this addiction – i.e. betting on horses, playing craps at a casino, etc.
Addiction can affect anyone of any race, gender, and religion. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or educated or uneducated. Addiction does not discriminate.
What is the difference between a problem and an addiction?
There is a slippery slope between “problem gambling” and a “gambling addiction.” A gambling addiction can lead to long-term consequences, such as job loss, social withdrawal, incarceration, psychological distress, and financial ruin. In fact, studies suggest that gambling addicts have a higher risk of suicide than any other type of addict. That is why stopping a gambling addiction, as quickly as possible, is paramount to preserving one’s health and well-being. The biggest challenge is trying to get the addict to understand that he or she has a real problem – one that requires assistance from loved ones and addiction specialists.
So, how can I tell if gambling is just my guilty pleasure or if it’s a real problem? Well, if you are spending almost all of your hard-earned cash on gambling, and/or if not gambling triggers a noticeable change in your mood and behavior – i.e. angry, hostile, impatient, depressed, and/or anxious, you may be suffering from a gambling addiction.
If you suspect you have a problem with gambling or an addiction to it, it is important to seek help. If you’re not ready to talk to a physician or counselor, try the self-help suggestions listed in this article.
Understand that curing your gambling habit will not be a “joy ride.” It will not be easy. However, with persistence, patience, personal forgiveness, dedication, determination, and a heaping spoonful of courage and grit, you can kick the habit. This article will provide you with steps you can take to curb your addiction and improve your quality of life!
Did you know that the National Problem Gambling Hotline receives approximately 300,000 gambling-related calls each year? It’s true. In addition, there has been a 10% increase in these calls every year for the past 10 years. You are not alone.
Make a list of the pros and cons of gambling
A good way to curb your gambling habit is to make a list of the pros and cons of gambling. Create two columns with one side being the “pros” and the other one being the “cons.” Document how gambling has helped and hurt your life. In other words, how has this activity affected your life – good and bad. Be as detailed and descriptive as possible.
At the bottom of the page, write down ways your life would or could be better if you stopped gambling. Reflect on what you wrote and decide, after reviewing your list, if the “pros” really outweigh the “cons.” If you are honest with yourself, you’ll realize that the thrill you receive from gambling is actually doing more harm than good. You’ll also realize that it’s time to start looking at ways to curb your addiction.
Be honest with yourself
The first step to recovery is “admitting you have a problem.” Be honest with yourself and admit that you have a gambling problem. Very few, approximately 3%, of gambling addicts seek treatment and those who seek help for it do so only after they have virtually lost everything – i.e. home, job, friends, a partner or spouse, their dignity, health, money, etc.
Why does this happen? Many times chronic gamblers don’t see a problem – at first. In fact, it’s only when things get so bad they can’t deny it anymore that they seek help. Moreover those who seek help for a gambling addiction, typically call the National Problem Gambling Hotline (1-800-522-4700) first – before seeking help with a counselor.
Join a support group
Another way to curb your gambling addiction is to join a gambler’s support group. It is common for chronic gamblers to join support groups or attend support meetings before seeking help from a counselor or addiction specialist. One of the most common support groups for gamblers is Gambler’s Anonymous (GA).
Gambler’s Anonymous, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is a 12-step treatment program that involves having a sponsor who can hold you accountable for your actions, while still providing you with support during the recovery process. There are approximately 1,700 Gambler’s Anonymous groups throughout the US – all of which can be found by visiting their website. Gambler’s Anonymous can also be found in 86 countries!
Don’t want to join a support group or attend support meetings? Cool! There is an online program called Smart Recovery that can guide you through the recovery process.
FYI: Gam-Anon meetings are available for loved ones with a gambling addict or problem gambler. These meetings are located in 40 US states (you can find the exact locations on their website). The purpose of these support meetings is to teach people how to support their loved ones – without suggesting that the behavior is acceptable.
Talk to someone
One of the best ways to curb your gambling addiction is to talk to someone – a loved one, religious leader, your physician, addiction specialist, or a counselor, therapist, or psychiatrist. Although addicts typically start out by calling a hotline, joining support groups, or attending meetings, some eventually seek help with qualified mental health and addiction professionals.
As a result, many of these addicts receive individual counseling. In fact, the most common psychotherapy for gambling addicts is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT, a counselor or therapist teaches an addict how to change his or her negative thoughts and destructive behaviors.
The goal of CBT is to teach addicts healthy coping, communication, and problem-solving skills, so they can resist the urge to return to gambling in the future. One of these tools may involve teaching you how to increase the time between when you get the urge to gamble and when you engage in the activity.
The relapse rate is high for gamblers. However, the great thing about cognitive-behavioral therapists is they can teach you how to avoid this pitfall simply by adopting healthier means of dealing with stress and adversity. CBT also teaches you how to avoid triggers and helps you find alternative ways to deal with your urges to gamble.
Read the longer version
You can learn more about curing a gambling addiction by reading the following articles: Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling by Help Guide, What is Gambling Addiction by Healthline, Gambling Addiction Treatment Program Options by Psych Guides, and How to Stop Gambling by WikiHow.
About the Author
Dr. R. Y. Langham
Ph.D. in Family Psychology
Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
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